Blazing Saddles – Racism & Slavery

Blazing Saddles is the first film I can remember watching on VHS as a kid. Lord knows why I was allowed to watch it, but I feel like I’m a better person because of it. It took such an uncomfortable subject and dug it up for everyone to see in a way that was actually comfortable to watch. It showed how weak minded those with prejudice are as the hero Bart exploits the hate of his enemies rather than falls victim to it. Bart was one of my first heroes growing up because of that.

And I’m not alone here. In an interview with DGA Quarterly, Mel Brooks talked about how when he received his Kennedy Center Award he was told by President Obama, “When I was a kid, I was thrilled with that picture.” So yeah – parents, if you want your kids to grow up to be president, you know what to do.

Fun fact – both Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder were Mel Brook’s second choices for the two headlining roles of this film. Originally Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the screenplay, was set to play Bart while Gig Young was the original Waco Kid. Young had collapsed on set due to alcohol withdrawal and was quickly replaced with Wilder, while Pryor was turned down by the studios because of his apparent drug habit. That’s right kids, the original cast of Blazing Saddles was sacked due to drug and alcohol addiction.

Four Lions – Terrorism and Religious Fanaticism

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more offense in regards to this film. After all – it’s a comedy about four dim-witted suicide bombers of Muslim faith. That’s kind of a touchy subject for more than a few reasons. However watching the film there really isn’t much to be offended about. In fact, during production the filmmakers consulted heavily with former Guantanamo Bay guest Moazzam Begg in order to determine this very thing. Beggs, along with two other former detainees, apparently loved the film.

It really was a fine line they were walking too. For example, a scene later in the film where [SPOILERS] a police officer confronts the four bombers right before they carry out their plan to suicide bomb the London Marathon. To hide their explosives they are wearing various costumes such as a Ninja Turtle and the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster. Referring to the marathon, the cop comments that they are “going to die in that gear.” This sets off one of the bombers who, realizing that he is – in fact – going to die, tries to turn himself in. As he desperately pleads for his life, the other three set off his bomb remotely. It’s pretty dark, except that the whole time this happens, the would-be bomber is wearing an upside down clown outfit.

No doubt the day of shooting involved a lot of people snickering and feeling really terrible about themselves. It’s that kind of blend of terrible and hilarious that makes this movie work.

The Great Dictator – Fascism, War, & Tyranny

Charlie Chaplin once said that had he known the full extent of the Nazis’ evil he wouldn’t have made this film. While I don’t doubt that, I’m sure glad this wasn’t the case. Released in 1940, it was the second film ever to feature a parody character of Adolf Hitler, and certainly a film ahead of its time. To put it in perspective, this film came out almost a year before the U.S. had officially declared war on Germany.

During its release the film was hardly taboo, and rather served as a great form of inspiration during the war. However the moral has remained timeless. It is a cry against men who seek power through greed and violence. Those who care not about making the world better for anyone beside themselves. Dictatorship.

And yet at the same time we get laugh-out-loud moments sandwiched in between. It’s surreal to watch; like an old anti-Nazi Looney Tunes cartoon, you get to watch all your rubber heroes beat the tar out of Hitler like it’s no big deal. I literally belly laughed watching Chaplin fumble with chairs mere moments before tearing up from the climatic ending speech. It’s downright unnatural to cause such a flux in emotion.

And if you need it, you can watch it right here.

Life Is Beautiful – The Holocaust

Roberto Benigni isn’t for everyone, and while I am a fan of his stuff, had someone told me that he would be doing a comedy about the Holocaust I probably would have freaked out. It sounds like such a bad idea right from the start – a silly, slapsticky comedy that takes place at a concentration camp. Holy shit.

And then you watch the film, and the shock comes not out of offense, but out of disbelief… he actually pulled it off. The clown actually managed to make a comedy out of one of the biggest atrocities in the history of mankind, and he managed to do it with respect in the process. This is especially amazing considering that Benigni isn’t Jewish.

And while the film got more than it’s fair share of bad reviews, it won three Academy Awards, the Grand Prize at Cannes, and the Best Jewish Experience award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The reason for the praise is pretty clear – while he does present a much more silly view of the concentration camps, the misery of the situation is not lost. It’s all still there – the bodies, the indifference. But by bringing out the love and warmth between those who suffered Benigni manages to give us a bittersweet reminder that in all the horror there is always a light at the end.

Pretty Much Every Monty Python Film

Where to even start here? Monty Python has made five films, and besides the sketch show ones, the least complex story they covered was the freaking Arthurian Holy Grail legend. That’s as uncomplicated as they get. Then probably comes Life Of Brian, the film that set religious groups in a frenzy over their mockery of the New Testament… and finally The Meaning Of Life, a sketch-style comedy devoted to the question of our very existence from birth to death.

These guys didn’t see any easy way out – they were in it to leave scars, and that’s why they are now legends. It’s the philosophy that drives comedians like George Carlin and Louis C.K. – nothing is off limits so long as it is funny. If you can find the funny side of something then you can overcome it.

But don’t just take my word for it…


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